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Emotional Moments

If you’ve experienced cardiac surgery and/or a heart attack, there is invariably a moment during the recovery period when you’ll be overcome by a sense of sadness, a moment that comes without warning, not unlike an unexpected snow squall or spring cloud burst. And, generally, lasts just as long. It is important to remember that you have been through an enormous physical and emotional episode and recovery is an on-going learning experience.

Depressive moments, down days, seem to go hand-in-hand with rehabilitation but, if they persist or you are concerned about them, you should consult your family doctor or cardiologist.

"There was a moment, a few weeks following my surgery when, for the first time, I read an article about the procedure. Before the operation there wasn’t time, just a few words with the surgeon the night before. Through this article I realized the enormity of what had happened on the operating table; the opening of the chest, the heart-lung machine, the stopping of the heart, the intricacy of the grafting. But what got to me was the fact that after all those years since the obstetrician got me breathing in the delivery room, my heart had actually stopped. In a way I was dead. That had a huge emotional impact on me. Took me a while to take it all in."

"I think one of the reasons is that you are not whole anymore. If you’ve never had surgery before, it’s hard to face. And, of course, there is fear. If something goes a little differently inside you tend to panic; or if your heart takes an extra bump or something, or you get a pain in your chest, your first instinct is to rush to Emerg, which is not a bad thing to do."

"Yes, when you’re discharged from hospital, it’s like a balloon being cast adrift, and when you feel a strange pain or feeling in the chest area in the middle of the night, your brain goes into overdrive dreaming up worst case scenarios and panic sets in. It can be quite frightening. So, there’s nothing like the reassurance of the on-call doctor in emergency to calm your fears. And, just in case it was something more serious, you’re in the right place."

"I experienced depression a couple of days after I got home, when the reality of what had happened began to sink in. I was angry. I thought: I’m only 50 years old. Why am I going through this? This only happens to old people. Seniors go through this, not a 50 year old. Even though I’d probably had a faulty valve all my life, I couldn’t accept that I was at risk and that, if I hadn’t had it done, I probably wouldn’t be here. And all this gnawed away at me. So, between being depressed and angry, and even though I thought I was hiding it, I wasn’t the best person to be around at that time. After about a month I found the group and made the phone call. I think that was probably my saving grace and the best thing I could have done for myself; to go and find someone else who had been there."

"I can vividly recall a moment four months after my surgery. I’d gone on my first trip away and on the first night, having a wonderful dinner in a Quebec City restaurant with my wife ... it was a perfect atmosphere in the old part of the city ... and out of the blue I dissolved into tears, choked right up, had trouble speaking. In hindsight I can attribute various reasons for this happening, the top one being confronting my own mortality."

"I anticipated depression almost immediately because I have a family history of it, but it didn’t happen. But two years after my surgery for a bypass and a repaired valve, it happened. I went to my doctor and told him I couldn’t live like this. I was crying all the time, or I was eating too much or not eating enough. I was sleeping too much or not sleeping well at all. So he prescribed an anti-depressant and eventually I came out of the depression and came off the medication. It’s so important to get help rather than trying to get out of it by yourself."

"I realized that stress would be a big issue for me. I would take on all the world’s problems, things I saw on the news and read in the papers. On top of that I was under a lot of stress at work. But I knew, after my surgery, I’d have to get rid of all that. And I did. I quit the stress."

"I didn’t go through a depressed stage. I did feel scared once or twice though. I seemed to be recovering at a good pace and then I seemed to have a set-back two or three months after my surgery. At one point my husband said to me, "Okay, you’re off to the doctor. You’re regressing, you’re not getting any better." It was more on-going discomfort. My doctor said everything was a-okay and I should continue doing what I was doing. So yes, I was scared, wondering if I’d ever return to a normal life. Am I always going to have to watch myself, am I always going to have a sensitivity in my chest? But everything worked out nicely."

"About three years after my surgery I started getting depressed. Life wasn’t going the way it should. It could have been that I’d retired early and didn’t have a job and I didn’t have anything to do. I was seeing a psychologist and he told me about the support group and the facilitator of the group put me in touch with a depression program related to heart disease at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, which helped. Before I had the surgery they told me this might happen, that I might get depressed, but I just brushed it off because I hadn’t been like that. At one point I was even feeling suicidal. The thing is, you have to do something about it. See your doctor, change your lifestyle, talk about it. Just don’t ignore it."

"I believe in living in the moment and living in the day, but it’s easy to start thinking, What if? I look around at my possessions, and my kids, and wonder, What if? Every day that I still live I’m motivated to do what I’m supposed to do to make sure I have as much time as possible. I’m a spiritual person and that helps, but I don’t worry about things I have no control over. But I do have control over what I eat, how I exercise."

"I had a really down day about a year after my surgery. We’d planned a winter trip south, only to discover I couldn’t get any out-of-the-country medical insurance. It was a big blow and I moped around, angry at the world ... and then I realized; I’m alive, I beat some huge odds and so many - what 70,000 or more a year in Canada? - didn’t survive the year I had my heart attack. And here I was complaining because I couldn’t take a trip south. Big deal. So be it. Four years later, in the best health I’ve been in for years, and I still can’t get insurance. It seems the companies move the goal posts every year. But, hey, I’m alive."

"When I was in emergency with my heart attack and, later, getting ready for the bypass surgery, it never once crossed my mind that I wouldn’t make it. It was later, especially through that first year, that I got very apprehensive about my survival chances. I guess I was depressed about it. And then, as my recovery progressed, I began to realize that my life was pretty full. I had a lot of projects on the go and a lot of ideas to work on and I realized how good my health was with all my exercising – and then the realization, I just didn’t have time to die. No Time For Dying. Sounds like the title of an old black and white movie. Now I don’t even think about it. Well, occasionally. I guess it goes with the territory."